Horse Body Condition

Horse Body Condition

As seen in Equus Extra

 

When you see your horse every day, slow, subtle fluctuations in weight can be easy to miss, especially under a winter coat or blanket. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your horse’s body condition so you can catch developing changes earlier.

One of the most objective ways to evaluate a horse’s weight, short of walking him onto a scale in a veterinary hospital, is to learn to determine his body condition score (BCS), a method of ranking body fat on a scale from 1 (poor) to 9 (extremely fat) developed in 1983 by Don Henneke, PhD.

When horses develop fat, they tend to store it in distinct places just under the skin where it can be easily seen and felt. And they lay fat in certain parts of the body in a particular order—first over the heart and the ribs, then over the rump and back, forward to the withers, and last over the neck. As a result, the specific location of stored fat can tell you how overweight the horse is.

If your horse has a “weight problem” —whether he needs to lose or gain—his feed ration will obviously be central to the solution. An overweight horse needs to consume fewer calories and/or exercise more. But simply cutting back on your horse’s regular feed is not a good idea if it means you’ll be shortchanging his nutrition. Instead, consider switching to a lower-calorie feed meant for easy keepers. Ration balancer products can help ensure  your horse gets all of the vitamins and minerals he needs if you need to  reduce or eliminate his concentrates.

So what’s your horse’s body condition score?

score: 1 (Poor) • Extreme emaciation. • Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and hooks and pins are prominent. • Bone structure of withers, shoulder and neck is easily noticeable. • No fatty tissue can be felt.

score: 2 (Very thin) • Emaciated. • Thin layer of fat over base of spinous processes. • Transverse0 processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. • Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and hooks and pins are prominent. • Withers, shoulders and neck structures are faintly discernible.

score: 3 (thin) • Fat about halfway up spinous processes; transverse processes cannot be felt. • Thin fat layer over ribs. • Spinous processes and ribs are easily discernible. • Tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be visually identified. • Hook bones appear rounded but not easily discernible. • Pin bones not distinguishable. • Withers, shoulders and neck  are accentuated.

score: 4  (Moderately thin) • Ridge along back. • Faint outline of ribs discernible. • Tailhead prominence depends on conformation; fat can be felt around it. • Hook bones not discernible. • Withers, shoulders and neck are not obviously thin.

score: 5 (Moderate) • Back is level. • Ribs cannot be visually distinguished but can be easily felt. • Fat around tailhead beginning    to feel spongy. • Withers appear rounded over    spinous processes. • Shoulders and neck blend     smoothly into body.

score: 6  (Moderate to fleshy) • May have slight crease down back. • Fat over ribs feels soft and spongy. • Fat around tailhead feels soft. • Fat beginning to be deposited along sides of the withers, behind the shoulders and along the sides of the neck.

score: 7 (Fleshy) • May have crease down back. • Individual ribs can be felt, with noticeable filling between ribs with fat. • Fat around tailhead is soft. • Fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders, along neck

score: 8 (Fat) • Crease down back. • Difficult to feel ribs. • Fat around tailhead very soft. • Area along withers filled with fat. • Area behind shoulder filled in. • Noticeable thickening of neck. • Fat deposited along inner buttocks.

score: 9  (extremely fat) • Obvious crease down back. • Patchy fat appearing over ribs. • Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. • Fat along inner buttocks may rub together. • Flank filled in flush.

Equine Intelligence: Nine Insights Into the Way Horses Think

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

 

The fact that horses have no visible “weapon,” like the horn on a rhino or the claws on a tiger, gives a major clue as to how their minds work. Their primary form of defense is “flight,” (verses the “fight” some animals may engage in) and as prey animals they are experts at knowing when to flee and executing this action with lightning quick reflexes.

But it’s a mistake to assume that horses are simply a product of their instincts, relying on reflex alone. The fact is, horses are often compared to dogs and cats in terms of intelligence, but it’s much like comparing apples to oranges.

Dogs and cats are predators, and as such have developed very different skills and behaviors compared to horses. Understanding the latter, therefore, won’t come from expecting a horse to behave or think like a dog, or attempting to draw such comparisons, but from striving to understand why a horse’s mind works the way it does.

Equine intelligence researcher Evelyn Hanggi, Ph.D., co-founder of the nonprofit Equine Research Foundation, explained to Horse Talk that horses are more intelligent than many people believe:1

“Common beliefs maintain that horses have a brain the size of a walnut; horses do not think; horses are merely conditioned-response animals; horses cannot generalize; horses have no sense of concept; horses are color blind, have poor acuity and depth perception, and cannot transfer information from one eye to another.

In reality, horses manage not only ordinary daily cognitive tasks but mental challenges as well. In the wild, they must cope with food and water of inconsistent quality or unpredictable distribution, predators that change locations and habits, and a social system in which identities and roles of individuals must be discovered and remembered.”

How Do Horses Think? Nine Key Insights

Dr. Robert M. Miller is an equine veterinarian and behaviorist who has summed up the way horses think in nine concise points. All of them relate back to the fact that horses are flight animals, and this is key to understanding why they do what they do. As summed up by DVM 360, once you understand Miller’s nine points, you’ll begin to understand the complex underpinnings behind horse intelligence.2

Flightiness Does Not Equal Lack of Intelligence

While many equate horses’ (and many prey species’) flightiness as a sign that they’re not very bright, it’s important to understand that flight equals life for horses, who must outrun their natural predators of cougars, wolves and bears in order to survive. Miller told the news outlet:3

“I now realize that the horse in its natural environment, the grassy plains, is a highly intelligent animal. As we go through this list, you will see that the horse rates extremely high on some scales, and in several places, it rates higher than any other domestic animal. I am still learning to respect the intelligence of the horse.”

Horses’ Senses Are Incredible

Because quick response time is a life-or-death matter for horses, they have developed incredibly sensitive senses, from their vision to their nose and tactile awareness. In fact, Miller says they’re the most perceptive of all domestic animals, with an ability to sense slight changes in position in a rider on its back (even a slight turn of the head) and see with virtually 360-degree vision.

Because a horse’s eyes are set on the sides of its head, it’s able to see what’s on both sides, but their depth perception suffers as a result. This is why horses hesitate before crossing a stream — until they’ve learned the route or come to trust their rider.

Horses Learn and Are Desensitized Quickly

Miller believes that horses are faster learners than dogs, cattle, swine and sheep. This is because being able to decode what’s a threat and what’s not is essential for a prey animal like a horse. They also become desensitized to potential threats quickly once they realize they’re not harmful.

Why? Miller told DVM 360, “Because if you’re a flight animal and an unfamiliar stimulus — a thing you’ve never seen before or sound you’ve never heard before — precipitates flight, if that stimulus was harmless and you didn’t quickly desensitize to it, you’d never stop running. There’d be no time to eat, drink, rest or reproduce.”4

Horses Have the Fastest Response Times of All Domestic Animals

This again helps them to survive in the wild, but is an important point to remember if you spend any time around these majestic animals. “[I]f the horse wants to kick you and you’re in an exposed position, you’re going to get hurt. We just can’t move that fast,” Miller says.5

This is especially important if you’re standing in one of horses’ two “blind spots” — directly in front of or in back of them.6 You should always talk to a horse when approaching these areas so the horse knows you’re there and doesn’t become frightened.

Horses Have Excellent Memories

Miller says horses never forget, and this includes both good and bad experiences. Their memory skills were likely helpful in one experiment, in which horses were taught to use a touch-screen computer to discriminate between different shapes and sizes.

The 42-inch touch-screen monitors showed horses different sizes or shapes. If the horse chose correctly by touching the appropriate choice with his nose, he was rewarded with a carrot, which was automatically distributed beneath the screen.7

The horses learned to use the screen quickly, and were presented with different letter combinations (in which X was always the wrong choice) and shapes of varying sizes. The horses were able to identify shape differences similar to chimpanzees and humans, although the horses had more difficulty with closed shapes like squares, triangles and the letters O and D.

We recently visited a horse, Cimba, my daughter had a close relationship with over seven years ago. We didn’t know if he would remember her when we entered the barn, but his response was unmistakable and heartwarming; he was as glad to see her as she was to see him.

Horses Are Easily Dominated

Horses are herd animals and there are leaders and followers within the group. Horses are the most easily dominated among domestic animals, readily accepting leadership from other horses or humans, provided the leader uses the appropriate behaviors. Because horses are herd animals, they shouldn’t be pastured alone.

Interestingly, in the wild, the leader of the herd is typically an older mare (female horse), which some believe gains its alpha role not by strength or power, per se, but rather by experience and attitude, according to Carey A. Williams, Ph.D., extension specialist in equine management at Rutgers University. Williams reported:8

“The older mare has had more experiences, more close encounters, and survived more threats than any other horse in the herd. The requirement of the lead horse is not strength or size; if this were so, then humans could never dominate a horse. Dominance is established not only through aggression but also through attitudes that let the other horses know she expects to be obeyed.”

Horses Have Their Own Body Language

Miller believes it’s important to learn horses’ bodily signals. A horse with its head down, as it is during grazing, signals submission and trust whereas a horse with its head up suggests it’s alert and considering flight. He also advises using non-predatory body positions when approaching a horse, such as avoiding staring at the horse and keeping a relaxed posture.

Controlling a Horse’s Feet Leads to Control of Their Mind

If you control a horse’s movement, you’re in essence controlling the horse, because a horse depends on its feet and ability to flee to survive. Miller explained to DVM 360, “When you are on a call and they bring the horse out, while talking to the owner, first move the horse around in a quiet little circle … The horse will be thinking, ‘This person is controlling where my feet are positioned.’ And submission is the response to that.”9

Horses Hit the Ground Running

As a precocial species, horses are able to stand and run very soon after birth and have full use of their senses. It’s during this time, in the first few days after birth, that imprinting is greatest and foals quickly learn to identify what are threats and what aren’t.

Understanding Horse Intelligence Can Further the Human-Equine Bond

Compared to intelligence research in other animals, relatively little work has been done on the potentially advanced intelligence of horses and much remains to be discovered. It’s recently been revealed, for instance, that horses use subtle signals to ask humans for help when faced with a difficult problem.10 They’re also capable of reading your, and other horses’, facial expressions.11

According to Hanggi, deciphering equine intelligence is a crucial area of study, as only by fully understanding how horses’ minds work can we be sure we’re treating these creatures with the humanity they deserve. As she told Horse Talk:12

“If the cognitive abilities of horses are misunderstood, underrated, or overrated, their treatment may also be inappropriate. Equine welfare is dependent on not only physical comfort but mental comfort as well.

Confining a thinking animal in a dark, dusty stable with little or no social interaction and no mental stimulation is as harmful as providing inadequate nutrition or using abusive training methods. Therefore, it is in the interest of both horses and humans to understand more fully the scope of equine thinking.”

 

Peppermint – Good tasting and good for your horse!

by Hilary Self, BSc (Hons), MNIMH comments by Diane Weinmann

Peppermint is one of the main herbs for digestion and contains between 0.5% and 1.5% of volatile oil, found in all parts of the plant. The oil content is highest just before flowering. The quantity of oil in the plant can vary depending on the variety of mint, the soil it is grown in and the climate. The oil consists of about 50% menthol.

The reason peppermint is such a valuable herb for the digestive system is because of this oil. It has a carminative action, helping to relax sphincters and the smooth muscles of the digestive system, assist in the expulsion of intestinal gas, tone mucous membrane surfaces and increase peristalsis. Peppermint oil is sometimes administered to people in capsules for irritable bowel syndrome.

The oil has a cooling, soothing and anesthetic effect on the smooth muscles of the stomach and intestines, which makes it one of the key herbs to choose when dealing with horses prone to colic, gastric or duodenal ulceration, smooth muscle spasm, trapped gas, digestive cramping or poor appetite.

Peppermint contains a bitter quality that increases bile secretion and helps stimulate the appetite as well as tannins, which can help with horses who suffer from loose droppings or bouts of diarrhea.

Other internal and external benefits

For the respiratory system, antibacterial peppermint oil can be added to a pad or steam inhalant and used to help loosen residual mucus/catarrh, relieve and reduce the frequency of a troublesome cough, encourage perspiration in the early phases of colds and flu, or help combat lung infections.

The menthol content of the plant is antiseptic and when used in high concentrations can act as a disinfectant. The oil has been extensively trialed and shown to offer very significant antimicrobial and antifungal effects against over 25 bacterial and 20 fungal species.

Externally, peppermint oil can be sparingly added to topical lotions or blended with a carrier oil (such as almond oil) and applied directly on the skin or mucus membrane. The oil can act as an insect repellent and is often used to reduce the sensitivity of skin receptors, helping to reduce pain, itching, or sensitivity to temperature, making it fantastic for topical use on skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and neuralgia.

In the winter time I used to melt peppermint candies in hot water and add sweet feed and some bran to make a hot bran mash for my horse.  It helps keep things moving (if you get my drift with the bran) and it’s a favorite treat to warm their bellies!

Next time you brush past some peppermint and smell that fresh aroma, remember how many benefits this humble herb has to offer.

Equine Rehabilitation with Reiki

by Kathleen Prasad

Featured in Equine Wellness Magazine ~ Vol. 11 Issue

 

Healing Hands using Healing Touch for Animals or Reiki

Follow these simple Reiki steps for powerful rehabilitation results in your horse!

If you love to ride your horse, chances are you’ve rehabbed him from an injury at one time or another. There are many ingredients for creating a successful journey back to health and soundness, and sharing Reiki with your horse can be a very helpful part of the healing program. Besides helping you navigate the difficulties of rehabbing with a peaceful outlook, Reiki can give you the opportunity to deepen your bond with your horse!

What is Reiki?

Reiki is a meditative practice that nurtures heart-to-heart connections with your horse. Healing starts where our hearts connect, and because of it’s gentle approach in which the horses leads each session, it’s ideal for helping even the most sensitive horses heal from injury.

When rehabbing your horse, stall rest and a controlled exercise program may be recommended. Reiki can be extremely beneficial for helping your horse stay mentally peaceful and happy while exercising less. It can also help balance his body, mind and spirit – creating ideal conditions for powerful self-healing.

If your horse is recovering from an injury, you’ve got lots of time to just “be” with him – often we spend the time with our horses “doing” things. Since Reiki is really about “being”, rehab time is ideal Reiki time.

Exercises for sharing Reiki with your horse

So how do we “do” Reiki with horses? I like to use the term “share” instead. Through our Reiki meditation practice, all we are really “doing” is returning to peace and harmony within ourselves. Once we are in that balanced space, our horse can shift more easily back into balance himself. Thus, to really help a horse with Reiki, we first need to get in the right state of mind. We have to let go of our agendas, of the pressure to get the horse better, of our desires to force this and fix that. Instead, we have to practice stilling our minds, opening our hearts, and just being with our horses.

Try this Reiki exercise

  1. Choose a quiet time to be with your horse. Afternoon naptime, when your horse is quietly grazing, or dinnertime (once he is settled) is an ideal time to share Reiki. Choose a place to stand nearby, without directly touching your horse.
  1. Take a moment to let go. Take stock of your thoughts about your horse in this moment. Observe the things you are worried about, the things about the situation that frustrate you, or any other bothersome thoughts and emotions. Imagine these thoughts and emotions transforming into clouds in the sky. Watch them float away. Just let them go without judgment.
  1. Center yourself and set your intent. Place your hands on your lower belly and breathe deeply. Visualize roots coming down from the bottoms of your feet, anchoring you deep into the earth. Feel yourself stable and strong like a tree. Imagine your heart is radiating a beautiful light. Hold an intention of perfect health, wellness or well-being in your heart and mind.

 

Kathleen and Kodiak

  1. Create a “Reiki Space” for healing. Expand the light of your heart throughout your whole body. Every cell is full of this beautiful and bright light. This light is full of perfect healing, harmony and balance. Imagine this wonderful healing light can radiate out of your body into the space around you. Slowly expand your hands outward from your belly as you visualize the light shining out.
  1. Invite your horse to share this space with you. As you stand radiating this beautiful light, look deeper than the physical/emotional struggles your horse may be facing. See your horse’s heart as a beautiful, perfect and bright light just like yours. Realize that at the heart, your horse is full of healing power! At the heart, in this moment, all is well, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Invite your horse to connect with your heart and share this bright space of perfect balance.
  1. Let go of physical touch. If the horse chooses to come to your hands at this point, Reiki may involve direct physical contact in the form of light touch on areas of the body he is comfortable with. Your horse will guide you in this. Although Reiki is just as effective without this direct contact, because it’s really about a state of heart and mind, for many horses the power of touch is a very strong way to convey compassion and care while nurturing a heart-to-heart connection. Just follow your horse’s lead.
  1. Relax and just “be”. Continue to stand in a relaxed way, focusing on your roots, on the light at your heart, and on the intent of perfect health and wellness. Let troubling or distracting thoughts float away like clouds in the sky. Observe your horse moving closer or farther away, or standing quietly with you, without judgment. Notice the signs of relaxation, happiness and connection that your horse may show.
  1. Give thanks. After a time, your horse may disconnect and move away, or become more active. This is often a sign that “Reiki time” is over. Bring your hands back to your belly and feel yourself grounding as you set your intent to finish. Take a moment to thank your horse for connecting with you before you leave the space. Realize that the Reiki Space is a place where separations soften, hearts unify and healing happens for all. Notice any feelings of peace, well-being and healing that you feel within yourself.
  1. Follow these steps every day or as often as possible while your horse recovers. Notice how much easier the rehabilitation process becomes for both you and your horse!

Sharing Reiki with our horses is about being completely and utterly present in the here and now. When our horses are injured, our first instinct might be to run from difficulties, hide from suffering, shift our focus into anger over past causes, or worry about future outcomes. With the openness and compassionate presence that Reiki meditation brings, we can learn to see from the heart instead of focusing on all the outer things that are “wrong”. In this way, we can support a return to balance. Be patient, “be Reiki” and you will not only support a beautiful healing rehab journey, but also deepen your bond with your horse.

 

Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

Posted on August 19, 2014 by Roy J. for Nutrena

 

There are some common questions come up when we talk about what happens to horses as they age and why their bodies change shape:

§  Does my good old horse need more calories (energy) or more protein?

§  He is out on good pasture and is holding his weight, but his hair coat looks dull and he has lost muscle mass.

§  She looks a little thin, should I add some fat/oil to her diet?

These are all apparently simple questions, but actually we need to look at the nutrient supply and purpose a little closer.

Calories from fat/oil, digestible fiber (structural carbohydrates and starch & sugar (non-structural carbohydrates) are the key energy sources for horses. If a horse is thin, that tells us that the horse needs more Calories to maintain fat cover measured by Body Condition Score system. Those Calories can be added from extra fat/oil, extra digestible fiber or additional starch and sugar. Vegetable oil contains 2.25 x the Calories per pound of carbohydrates and is a safe way to add Calories. Switching to a highly digestible fiber source (better quality forage, added beet pulp etc.) can also add Calories of digestible energy (DE). It takes 2-3+ pounds of added feed to add 1 pound of gain, depending on the feed.

Adding Calories alone will not bring back the muscle mass. This will require added protein (really added essential amino acids, particularly lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids). If a horse is getting adequate crude protein, but the protein is of limited quality and is low in one or more essential amino acids, the horse will not be able to utilize it fully to maintain or restore muscle mass. This is why it is essential to know the quality of the protein in feeds, particularly these first 3 limiting amino acids.

A common situation is an old horse retired to a grass pasture. It may be difficult for the horse to consume enough to maintain body condition, thus the horse loses weight. The grass pasture may also be low in crude protein and certainly low in essential amino acids, so the horse also loses muscle mass. Tough combination for an old friend!

The good news is that this can be reversed with the use of a well-designed senior horse feed providing both Calories and essential amino acids!

 

Senior Horse Care Tips

Nutrena Posted on August 25, 2015 by Megan C. comments by Diane Weinmann

 

These days, horses are living longer, more productive lives than ever before.  Thanks to advances in care, medicine, nutrition and veterinary practices, it’s not unusual to find a horse active into their thirties.  But with more active years comes the need to provide accommodations which meet the special needs of the aging equine.

Turn-out and Exercise

Moving is a key factor in keeping your senior comfortable.  Not only does moving about help with preserving muscle mass, motion also aids in digestion, reducing inflammation and increasing circulation.  Daily turnout is a great way to provide this opportunity, as is regular exercise.  Some ideas to exercise include light schooling, trail rides, driving or hand walking.  Whether in a pasture or dry lot, daily turnout and frequent exercise of your senior horse will go a long way in providing a happy, healthy retirement. Plus it’s more time to spend with your aging friend.

 

Dentition

As horses age, their teeth change due to wear.  Hopefully your senior horse has had the advantage of regular dental care in their earlier years, setting them up for success later in life.  Regular dental checks and floats not only help to maintain good dental health, it also provides your senior with the best chance at chewing and digesting their feed and forage.

Forage and alternative options

With the change in teeth comes some accommodation to forage.  Though aged, the equine senior still requires fiber as the main source of energy. Changes in dental efficacy as well as digestive system changes means the importance of good quality fiber is even higher.  If high quality hay (more leafy, less stems) is not readily available, hay cubes are a good alternate source of easy to chew fiber.  If needed, hay cubes can be soaked, providing an easy to chew fiber source.

Feed and Mashes

Changes in the digestive efficiency of the senior horses requires some specific nutritional needs.  As the digestive system ages, the ability to digest and absorb nutrients is more of a challenge than in earlier years.  In addition, nutrients are needed in different ratios to support the aging body.  For example, higher levels of quality amino acids are required to maintenance muscle mass in the senior horse.  Feeds that are specially formulated for senior horses provide these higher levels of nutrients in the proper ratio.  Many varieties of senior feeds are considered ‘complete’, in that they contain higher levels of fiber, providing an alternative to forage, thereby making it easier for the senior horse to get the nutrients needed.

Blanketing

You may notice a difference in your horse’s ability to stay warm during cold or wet weather.  Blanketing may be needed to help keep your senior horse warm during inclement weather.  Not only does blanketing help with warmth, your senior horse isn’t spending valuable calories trying to stay warm, burning off energy and their weight.  Blanketing in extreme cold or dampness may help your horse in maintaining a desired body condition.

Senior horse care may require some extra steps and more attention to details, but with the right adjustments, your senior can enjoy productive, happy and healthy golden years.

 

Do you know how to Bandage your Horse?

There are right and wrong ways to bandage horses’ limbs, no matter the wrap’s purpose

By Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM

wrap-polos-on-horse

At some point nearly every horse, from the fine-boned, flashy Arabian halter horse to the cowboy’s sturdy, no-frills roping mount, will sport a wrap or bandage on one or more legs. Just because we see bandages around the barn frequently doesn’t mean bandaging and wrapping are easy, and that bandages and wraps are interchangeable and always appropriate. Before you reach for the nearest roll of Vetrap or grab that splint boot out of your tack trunk, look at some of the basic principles behind bandaging or wrapping equine limbs.

Owners commonly apply bandages to shield recent wounds or tendon or -ligament injuries, to protect during shipping or performance, and to prevent fluid accumulation in the limb (“stocking up”) during stall rest. Reid Hanson, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, professor of equine surgery and lameness at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Alabama, adds topical dressing application, immobilization, and support to this list. However, bandaging and wrapping, while useful, are not wholly benign. Improper application and/or use of an inappropriate bandaging material can do more harm than leaving the leg unwrapped.

Architecture of a Bandage

Bandage design varies according to purpose, but most bandages include the same two to three layers:

·         Topical dressing, which might be a liniment, medicated pad, ointment, or powder. These are generally used in horses with injuries or skin conditions.

·         Thick cotton padding such as practical (roll) cotton, layers of sheet cotton, cast padding, or fabric quilt or pillow wraps.

·         Compressive/securing layer such as stable/track bandage, Vetrap, gauze, polo wrap, elastic tape, or stockinette.

Of course, veterinarians might modify or augment this basic structure to suit particular circumstances. They might recommend adding splints or bandage casts to provide immobilization in the case of a wound in a high motion area or with a severe tendon injury. As for protection, owners might use Velcro-style shipping boots, single-layer devices that provide skin protection but little compression. In contrast, some wraps and boots intended for performance might provide focal protection suited to a particular sport.

And some might not look like a traditional or prefabricated bandage at all. For some wounds, such as those in areas that are difficult or detrimental to immobilize or where topical medication application is the main requirement, Hanson describes a minimalist wound covering technique known as the “Jolly method.” This technique uses Velcro tabs to secure a wound dressing and a stockinette tube as covering.

wrap-horse-hock

Bandage and Wrap Uses

Wounds Owners and veterinarians commonly bandage limbs to protect wounds and surgical sites. A bandage can prevent contamination, provide compression to minimize swelling, hold topical medications against the wound, reduce motion of the wound edges, and keep the exudates (pus) in contact with the wound.

Although exudate triggers an “ick” response in many people, that yellowish slime serves a critical purpose in the healing process. “The exudate has all of the cytokines (cell-signaling proteins) that -produce healing,” says Hanson. Many horse owners “see exudate and assume (the wound) must be infected, and so they get their iodine scrub and clean it,” but Hanson cautions against this. By scrubbing a healing wound, “they’ve removed all the good juice that allows it to heal.”

Hanson prefers using an acemannan (an aloe vera derivative) wound cleanser that is gentle to the tissues. “You should not clean a wound with anything you are not willing to put in your eye’s conjunctival sac,” he notes as a rule of thumb.

Excessive swelling or motion of the wound edges can delay wound margin contracture, a major step in the healing process. A bandage that applies compression can help prevent fluid from accumulating in the limb in response to injury and reduce this swelling.

To reduce movement, however, the veterinarian might need to amend the basic bandage design. A standard soft wrap-type bandage often does not provide sufficient immobilization regardless of how thickly or firmly it is applied. Where immobilization is required, Hanson recommends using a splint or bandage cast.

For most limb wounds, Hanson suggests applying both a primary and secondary bandage. Once a veterinarian cleans and debrides the wound appropriately, Hanson recommends applying a medicated dressing (such as an acemannan hydrogel or calcium alginate dressing) as the primary bandage to promote autolytic debridement (use of the body’s own enzymes and moisture to liquefy and remove dead tissue). In most cases he will cover this dressing with a thick layer of padding and secure it with a wrap material. If the area requires immobilization he will then apply a secondary bandage, such as a splint or a semisoft bandage cast. Hanson prefers bandage casts over traditional hard casts because he believes they produce fewer complications, such as cast sores, and generally the horse can be sent home rather than having to remain in a hospital for monitoring.

Tendon or ligament injuries Wrapping legs with suspected or diagnosed tendon or ligament injuries has its pros and cons. A wrap can control swelling and provide some support to a leg with what Hanson refers to as a classic mid-tendon bow. “However, if the injury was the result of a bandage bow (caused by a too-tight or inproperly applied wrap), I probably would not use a wrap,” he says.

While these wraps generally do not require a dressing, pay attention to the bandage basics of using padding and applying even tension. Hanson does not believe placing a support wrap on an uninjured leg is necessary.

Julie Dechant, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, associate professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, comments that wraps alone do not give “enough support to provide true protection for tendon injuries. We certainly use (them), but in any severely damaged tendon a bandage alone is not enough support.” In these cases, says Dechant, a splint will most likely be required.

Shipping Owners can apply wraps and/or shipping boots to trailered horses’ legs both to protect the leg from trauma and provide support. Hanson notes that he sees horses arrive at the Auburn teaching hospital in one of two types of shipping wrap: the quilt and wrap type or a more modern shipping boot with Velcro closures. Overall, Hanson prefers the quilt and wrap style, feeling that it provides “support, compression, and protection.”

However, he notes that prefabricated shipping boots can provide more complete protection of the leg, covering the coronary band. “It seems that if someone was really concerned about protection, a combination of the styles might be best,” he says. “Bell boots that cover the coronary band are a nice addition to the (quilt and wrap) bandage if one is concerned with protecting that area from injury.”

Dechant believes that shipping boots are useful during travel, but owners need to be sure the boots fit well so they don’t trip up the horse. She agrees with Hanson that “if you’re only covering the cannon, (the boot or wrap) is not as useful in the trailer where the horse is more likely to step on itself.”

Dechant recommends getting the horse accustomed to having wraps or boots on his legs prior to shipping to avoid trauma from panicking in the confines of the trailer.

Confinement Owners can use standing wraps to minimize limb swelling in a stall-confined horse. Dechant says that “whenever standing wraps are placed, they need to be monitored daily and ideally reset at least once per day.” This way owners and managers can ensure the wrap is not tightening or loosening inappropriately and that no debris has worked its way inside the wrap, where it might cause a sore.

Performance Wraps, bandages, and boots are used in a wide variety of equine performance disciplines for protection and, in some cases, support. Dechant emphasizes the importance of clean, well-fitting, and situationally appropriate equipment. “It’s important to apply and use it in the intended manner,” she says. “Some wraps intended for performance are not meant for horses standing in the stall, where they may not have the same degree of blood flow.” Also, cautions Dechant, many performance wraps have less padding, so owners need to be aware of precise application with appropriate pressure.

Bandaging Demystified

Equine wraps and bandages are sort of like sushi: The menu of supplies is extensive, and everyone has an opinion about the “right way” to combine them. While it is true that inappropriate bandage application can cause as many problems as a well-applied bandage can prevent, following these common sense steps can result in successful bandaging:

1. Keep everyone safe. Preventing human injuries is just as important as treating or preventing equine ones. The person applying the bandage should avoid kneeling or sitting on the ground, says Dechant, and should instead crouch, ready to move out of the way if necessary. She also recommends having a competent handler hold the horse during the process. Bear in mind, too, that some horses initially resent wraps on the hind legs, especially over the hocks, so it’s best to apply these in an open area in case the horse kicks out.

2. Don’t skimp on the padding. “Insufficient padding is going to cause a bandage bow,” says Hanson. Padding should be clean, dry, and in reasonable shape, Dechant adds. Since the idea of the padding is to protect the leg, it’s important to avoid incorporating frayed bits of padding or fill that contains wrinkles or bunches–these can cause pressure points under a bandage.

3. Keep it even under pressure. Remember that “anything directly against the skin should not be applied with any tension at all,” Dechant says. But uneven tension in a bandage’s securing layers also can potentially cause tendon damage. “You want an even distribution of compression along the leg” with this layer, too, says Hanson.

“The key is to apply it firmly but not too tightly,” Dechant adds. If using Vetrap or a similar flexible bandage to secure the padding, she suggests applying enough tension to remove 80% of the wrap’s innate “wrinkles.” She also stresses the importance of overlapping layers of bandage by 50% to avoid having edges of the wrap material dig into the leg.

Using a neatly and tightly rolled bandage will ease application and reduce the need to pull against the horse’s leg and sensitive tendons to tighten the wrap. This will also help ensure the bandage is as smooth against the horse’s leg as possible to avoid uneven pressure.

4. Choose your own direction. Despite barn lore to the contrary, neither sources believe the direction a wrap is applied is critical. “Counterclockwise vs. clockwise is less important than technique,” says Dechant. “I don’t think the tendons care if they’re rolled to the outside or to the inside. However, each layer should be rolled the same (direction).” Hanson agrees with Dechant, noting that he hasn’t come across anything in literature to suggest wrapping in one direction or the other is superior. It is, however, important to be consistent in your technique and not to pull too tightly across the tendons.

5. Keep it clean. Shavings, straw, dirt, and moisture can irrate the skin and increase the risk of a wound becoming infected. Start with clean, dry materials and check the bandage frequently for damage, dirt, or moisture. To seal out debris, Dechant recommends securing the top and bottom of a disposable-type wrap with elastic tape such as Elastikon.

Take-Home Message

Bandages and wraps have numerous uses in the horse world but like many things, they can cause good or ill. Proper materials, application, and devices for the case at hand are all critical to safe and successful bandaging. Equally important is experienced instruction, as the information in this article can in no way replace a veterinarian’s experience and advice.