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Groom Guidance: The Bandaging Kay Neatham

Tuesday, 21 February 2017
Groom Guidance

Photo (c) Kay Neatham. Work and stable bandages. Photos (c) Kay Neatham.

Marcus Ehning's head groom Kay Neatham teaches you all you need to know about bandaging. "As long as the general rules for good bandaging are applied there is no right and wrong," Kay writes in her second part of our series 'Groom Guidance'.

I think originally we probably started bandaging horses for much the same reason as humans: To protect wounds and to support injuries. Bandaging is not a natural thing for a horse; they were built to jump, gallop and withstand all terrain without anything on their legs. The environment we now put them in makes bandaging common place. In my opinion most horses are bandaged largely to satisfy our own need to protect them, not because the horse needs bandages to protect itself.

Bandaging takes up a large part of my daily care of the horse. Putting bandages on, taking them off, rolling bandages and of course the never ending chore of untangling them after washing – often this is a last team effort for the day, one person patiently pulls out a bandage from the ball and the rest roll and as one seems to pull all the rest of the bandages even tighter together, another person has a go at untangling and so the process is repeated time and time again. Anyone who can invent a method for throwing all the bandages in the washing machine together so that they come out tangle free will be a millionaire! (One little tip is to always take the Velcro end and follow that through the knots, that way the Velcro is not stuck somewhere and pulling everything tighter.)

Photo (c) Kay Neatham. A good bandage for me: The knee joint is free to move and the bandage goes well below the fetlock to support the ligaments and tendons, also the joint itself. The wrap should not stick out the bottom, otherwise they get stepped on and destroyed.

When I started learning to ride in a riding school once a week, one of my first memories is learning how to tack up. That was before I’d even mastered the rising trot! Part of tacking up was that a few of the ponies wore bandages, and I remember very clearly us NOT being allowed to put them on. This was for the teacher only, and rightly so, as had we attempted this probably it would have resulted in them falling down, coming undone or worst of all a limping pony as one of us had cut of circulation to the foot by making the bandage too tight.

From the very beginning bandaging was a serious business for me and not to be taken lightly. The first time someone showed me how to put on an exercise bandage I was looking after a beautiful skewbald mare, with big intelligent eyes, she was a little flighty and won a lot with her owner at hunter trials and it was her owner who asked me if I'd like to learn to put her bandages on? I was so proud when she stepped out that day wearing bandages I'd put on and a little terrified they might slip down, if I'm to be completely honest.

Later in my early grooming years as I progressed I lost count of how many times I was asked to take off bandages and to start again as they were too low, too high, too tight, too loose or sometimes maybe it was just for the sake of practice – anyway it meant the difference between being finished on time or staying late, I'd like to think I got it right pretty quickly!

Today I'm no different. I always make people take off bandages that are not ok in my eyes and I'm pretty fussy, but I do always believe if something is worth doing then it's worth doing properly or not at all.

Having said all this about bandaging, for me the most important thing is to know your horses’ legs. When I walk into the box of a horse in my care, I would like to say I can tell nearly straight away if something is not quite right – even a slight swelling of a fetlock or a small nick never goes unnoticed.

One of the best times for checking legs and feeling for any heat is when you are picking out the feet, this should always happen before you take the horse out of the box.

Photo (c) Kay Neatham. A well-rolled bandage with the end tucked in.

I always like to take off stable bandages myself in the mornings so I can see the legs and feel for heat, I like to know what is normal for a horse in my charge so as not to miss any slight differences that could be vital to the horses’ soundness. This is especially important at the show after a day of hard jumping, it may be normal for one horse to be a bit stocked up and for another not. As I take off work bandages I always run my hand down a leg, like this I hope I would quickly notice if something was wrong. I cannot stress enough how important it is to know your horses’ legs.

Another important part of good bandaging is how you roll them. It is impossible to put on a good and even bandage if they have not been rolled up tightly, evenly and straight. Of course there is also nothing more annoying as when someone has rolled them with the Velcro attachments inside out, so as when you get to the end you cannot do them up. A few years back a friend of mine played a great joke on another friend by secretly rolling all 20 of his bandages inside out, so when, very late at night at the show he was putting his bandages on his horses, all we could hear from the next aisle was ‘Merde, you've got to be kidding me' and a few words I won't repeat. It was pretty funny but still really annoying, roll bandages correctly if you want to be able to bandage well!

A few other vital things to know about bandaging is that I have always been taught, and always teach, that when bandaging the off side legs (right) the bandage must go clockwise around the leg and the opposite so anti-clockwise for the near side (left) legs. This way you always have the pressure of the bandage on the tendons and ligaments in the same direction around each leg.

If you are two people bandaging I always make sure one person does the front legs and the other the back. That way the pressure is even on both front legs, it is of no help to have the pressure even on the right front and back legs and different on the left.

I like to use stable bandages mainly for support after jumping or a hard working day to help prevent strains and sprains. I use them also as protection when travelling, and at anytime the vet asks for a horse to be stable bandaged. Unless a horse really needs bandages every day as in the case of a horse with windgalls, I try to use them as little as possible. I believe I always need somewhere to go to – for example if a horse always wears stable bandages for no reason when they develop a problem, I would have nothing extra to use. Work bandages is something I like to use everyday as support to the legs and to protect from injuries.

Whenever I bandage for the stable or exercise, I like to use a big pad under the bandage – this helps to keep even pressure throughout the leg. For the stable bandages I like to use the 4m long bandages so I can start at the top of the leg and go all the way down and back up again. Work bandages are always polo bandages or fleece material. It is also important that the bandages are not to narrow as these are easily pulled tight like a strip around the leg. Stable bandages should not be too tight; a good rule of thumb is two fingers between the pad and the horses leg. Work bandages need to be tight enough not to slip and lose enough not to cut off circulation. I only ever use elastic bandages when jumping; these are always a thin material – again with a pad under and wide. I put them on last thing before the horse leaves for the ring and take them off as soon as possible, the necessity of a horse wearing elastic bandages to jump is something I always discuss with my vet. I never use vet wrap for a horse to work or jump, I truly believe this damages tendons and ligaments more in the long run than helps to support legs.

Of course a golden rule of bandaging not to be forgotten is if one leg needs a bandage then so does the opposite leg for support, if a horse has an injury and is wearing stable bandages it is likely he will support himself more with the opposite leg, so always bandage both front or back legs.

How we have learnt to bandage and with what materials we choose to bandage remain very personal experiences or choices and as long as the general rules for good bandaging are applied there is no right and wrong. One thing that I am sure of is that bandaging is something we spend an awful lot of time doing, so always do it well and for a purpose. 


- Kay Neatham -

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