Bandages? Boots? Do they really help prevent injury?

Many of us use leg wraps religiously (in Dressage, at least). But are they proven to actually prevent concussion / strains or are we just being traditionalist?

I can understand leg protection for jumpers and eventers, and the western disciplines where there may be knocks to the leg.

Research I have read indicates that most bandaging does nothing, as the forces that go through a horses leg are phenomenal. (The exception is the sports medicine boot). Also I have heard that bandaging only in front causes the horse to put more weight onto the forehand.

I don't really know what to make of it all. What do you think?

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Hhmm, I use white polos every time I ride (dressage). I even use them when I hack - probably because I am a bit superstitious and I'm certain that the one time I don't use them, my horse will spontaneously bang his leg!!
Honestly, I know that most people in my barn use either the boots or the wraps, but I don't think they really do anything at all, unless you are doing a very steep half pass and your horse bangs himself, or the horse acts up and hits himself somehow. What does the sports medicine boot do? I am always worried that boots will be put on too tight or will rub, so I stay away from them.
The SMB are supposed to be the only thing that properly absorbs the shock going through the joints, however I used them for a time and my horse got a scary looking lump suddenly one day, where I think there may have been some friction happening. In order to offer any protection they need to be on quite firmly, and as you rightly commented, there is no way of telling if they are fitting nicely or doing harm.
The lump went away, thank goodness, but I now use bandages with fybagee, and only if we are trying something new, or on a different surface, or trying to look good!
I use boots most of the time - brushing boots for hacking, sports medicine boots for exuberant horses, older horses etc. Mainly for protection from strike injuries & if the horss are having a hooligan moment & bang the fence or the kick boards in the school.

Boots over bandages is purely because I have 3 horses & it cuts down on laundry & time spent bandage rolling. I also think boots offer more protection, especially if the polos have been washed a fair bit, they get a bit thin. If I am at a clinic or a competition, I use bandages. Fun matchy matchy colours or white for more formal trips out or if I'm feeling fancy!

I honestly don't think that boots or bandages can reduce the forces on the legs significantly. I do recall reading some figures about sports medicine boots but it is difficult to assess how vaild these are without seeing the original research papers.

One thing I am careful about is overheating the legs under boots/bandages as it has been proven that heat can increase the likelihood of tendon damage. I make sure the boots I use are breathable, especially in the summer & always use Eskadron climatex linings under bandages.
The Equine Reasearch Centre put out a publication called "No Foot No Horse" many years ago. In it: Correctly wrapped polos will absorb up to 9% of the concussive force of the hoof hitting the ground. Correctly applied SMB absorbed 23% of the concussive force.
If you use either of these you must use them on all 4 legs otherwise the horse will be slightly off balance if only the front legs are wrapped (mine own observation). Keeping the stretch force on the leg equal is imperative otherwise you can cause damage to the soft tissues (bandage bows). If you cannot do this then stick to non stretch wrapping.
I found this in an article on

Support Bandages

A common procedure for many equestrian disciplines is the use of polo bandages or wraps placed on all four limbs during exercise. Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS, Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair in Equine Sports Medicine at Michigan State University, has pioneered research on locomotion and sports medicine, and she is especially devoted to the discipline of dressage. She notes, "Polo wraps do not support the leg. They give some protection against trauma, but less than some of the boots."

Frazier says polo wraps provide external padding that appears to "support" internal tissues. Bandages of various kinds have been used for a long time in veterinary medicine to "support" (reduce edema, or fluid swelling in) the tissues of the limb following soft tissue or orthopedic injury.

Frazier states, "The degree to which this makes a difference for normal horses doing submaximal work has not achieved a consensus of opinion. Bandages placed too loosely are ineffective, and those that are placed too tightly are a disaster.

"One thing that is not in dispute is that bandages look good on the horse; perhaps this is also a motivating force in their use," notes Frazier.

Clayton concurs, "They look nice and make the legs more visible when horses move in a poorly lit indoor."

The direction in which to wrap the bandage has taken on an unusual degree of significance to horse owners over the years, but does it really matter?

Frazier says, "Performance horses are commonly bandaged so that the flexors (the tendons on the back of the forelimb) are pulled toward the inside. This may help keep the leg from being wrapped too tightly as the bandage is 'pulled' around the front of the canon bone and 'laid' over the flexor tendons. The major blood vessels to the distal limb are on the flexor surface of the leg. A bandage applied too tightly can result in limb edema, pressure points, or even circulatory disturbance with limb- and life-threatening avascular necrosis (a disease resulting from the temporary or permanent loss of blood supply to the bone). However, I have seen horse's legs wrapped in both directions correctly and without negative consequence."

Clayton states, "The tendons slide around under the skin, so it doesn't seem likely that the direction of wrapping affects the end result."

But, Clayton brings up another important finding: "There's the concern about overheating of bandaged tendons. Temperatures around 45°C (a few degrees higher than normal tendon temperature) have been recorded in the core of the superficial digital flexor tendon, even after strenuous exercise of short duration (Goodship, et al., 1993). Heat is generated by the stretch-recoil cycle in the tendons, yet bandage wraps reduce normal cooling of the legs by convection." Heat that develops in the central core of a tendon should be allowed to dissipate as quickly as possible following work to avoid tendon degeneration.

Clayton says, "I recommend cold hosing the legs after removing wraps if the horse has worked hard, especially when using sports medicine boots."
I don't use boots as support but I do use them as protection as my guy is 5 and just getting into lateral work, I would hate for him to ding his cannon bones and get bruised while he learns where his feet go :P
I use the Veredus Piaffe Boots which I found on the following website they are great and so easy to put on and take off at competitions no more messy velcro.
They look fantastic!
I used polos on my horse, just because it was the standard at my first show stable. It did protect him from himself. He wasn't the most coordinated, and frequently would nick the inside of his front legs, so they did protect him from that. I purchased SMBs when he injured his suspensories in the hind legs, at the suggestion of my vet, to add support. I personally think that polos would only protect from scuffs, but don't provide a whole lot of support, unless you wrapped them under the fetlock similar to the way the SMB would support there. I also had concerns with the SMB creating too much heat (as you noted) if they are used while working the horse. The use of any other types of boots I do have concerns with, because again, this is my personal opinion, nothing i've read, but I think that boots would only serve a true purpose if they are custom fit for your horse, like an orthotic. The SMB can change shape and develop creases over time, and at that point I would consider them no longer serving their purpose either, and may cause damage or friction. And this can happen in less than a year of regular use.

I will continue to use my polos when doing work when my horse isn't in condition, or if the footing is deep. Even if it does only provide 9% absorbtion (thanks Queenrider, great info), perhaps that 9% may be what helps. Or perhaps it makes me feel I'm at least making an attempt... But i think it would help protect from an occasional uncoordinated move or scuff, to keep him from nicking his leg. They can't do any harm, when wrapped correctly, with the right tension. And of course, they do look nice too :-)
Thanks, for your very interesting comments. Custom fit boots! Extravagant, but you're probably right! I guess it's a bit like buying proper running shoes: serious athetes go to a lot of trouble to get the right kind of shoe, in the knowledge that incorrect fit or support can lead to injury. (But for the level of training most of us do, it doesn't matter too much :-P)

Is your horse now recovered from his suspensory issues? Do you think the SMB were useful?
Unfortunately, the suspensory issues stayed with him the rest of his life. It happened when he was about 12 years old, I got him back to some light work, clinics, but nothing strenuous ever again. Prior to that I showed him 3'6" hunter. He made it to age 25 though, by then those suspensories looked horrible, dropped his fetlocks closer to the ground. As long as he seemed happy enough, I kept him going, but his time came a year ago. Still makes me very sad. But, the SMBs I think did help provide support he needed, and helped in his recovery time. But after a while, i didn't feel that they were keeping even pressure, they started to develop creases in them, so I stopped using them. Custom fit boots for horses, I think that could be an awesome market, you want to go into business? ha ha,
I've never used wraps on my younger horse, but he's not in any kind of hard training or jumping. He's never knocked himself while riding. He can get pretty crazy in the pasture, and has never injured his legs. If anytime he should wear leg protection it would be when he's turned out! I do use leg protection in trailers.


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