The Science Behind Equine Boots and Bandages

The Science Behind Equine Boots and Bandages

Boots and wraps protect the horse's limbs. But have you ever asked yourself why or how these dressings protect a horse's leg--or if they even do?

Photo: iStock

What purpose does equine legwear really serve?

Going out for a few jumps in the arena? Buckle on the brushing boots. Heading for a haul in the trailer? Strap on those well-padded, hock-high transport boots. Treating a leg wound? Apply sheet cotton and that brightly colored flexible bandage. 

It’s what we’ve seen other people do; it’s what we’ve been taught to do; it’s simply what we know to do. But why exactly do we do it? Of course, the short answer is “protection.” Boots and wraps protect the horse’s limbs. But have you ever asked yourself why or how these dressings protect a horse’s leg—or if they even do? What’s going on under that boot or wrap? 

You might be surprised to learn there’s actually very little research about the inner workings of the equine leg when wraps and boots are applied. It’s a growing field that still needs lots of “padding” and extra “layers” of research before we can fully understand it. 

But in the meantime, we’ve gone to some of today’s top equine biomechanics researchers to get a better grasp on the science of the wrap and to help us unravel some of its mysteries.

Wrapping Leg Injuries

You know the feeling—when you walk into your horse’s paddock and find the dreaded leg gash. You don’t know how he did it but you do know what to do about it. Bring out the bandages, because nothing says leg wound treatment like good a wrap. 

Whether it’s something we’ve learned from experience, from veterinary advice, or from reading about horse care, we know that using padding and bandages to wrap a leg wound is essential first aid. What we might not know, though, is why.

Sure, pressure to any wound will help stop bleeding by encouraging clotting. And a wrap will help protect that wound from contamination. You might also know that wrapping a leg wound can help reduce swelling. In fact, keeping the swelling down could be the most important part of the healing process.

“The equine body’s response to injury in the distal (lower) limb is to swell, which can be protective in some ways (like reducing bleeding immediately after injury) but detrimental if not resolved in the later stages of wound healing,” says Nathan Canada, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, staff surgeon at Texas Equine Hospital, in Bryan. 

How does that work? Learn more about the physics of bandaging leg injuries, wrapping for travel, boots for impact protection, and more in the May 2017 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issue.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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