“No Bandages for Polo?”
By Dr Jorge MacDonough
What are the Issues with Horse Bandages and Boots?
In all equestrian disciplines where you want to achieve maximum athletic performance, even in animals of great economic value, many believe bandaging firm and booting will minimise over flexion of the fetlock, avoiding excessive strain on the tendons and ligaments. Boots and bandages are also used to protect horses and ponies from impact. However there are considerations that must be made relating to when these products are used, how they are applied, and which products to choose.
These are detailed below:
1 Interference with temperature dissipation
Most leg protection limits the dissipation of heat.
When tendons and ligaments are in exercise, they produce heat: this must be dissipated quickly. Excess heat for long periods of time decrease the ability of the horse or pony’s body to produce cells contributing to the matrix of tendons and ligaments, leading to long term degradation and weakening of of these structures.
Furthermore, inflammatory mediators are produced as a response to over heating, and these are responsible for tenderness and pain.
Heat removal by blood is inefficient on the leg because these organs have little vascularisation, unlike other parts of the body. So it is paramount that this process is not limited further by covering these structures.
2 Normal joint mobility limitation
It’s been demonstrated that bandages or some boots modify the angles of flexion and extension of the fetlock in speed. This will affect accuracy of footing via such unnatural movements or positions through restriction. This restriction may result in a subsequent injury elsewhere, and a bandage or boot will not hold against the weight of a horse. The vast majority of polo horses end their career through joint injuries rather than injuries to tendons. Therefore, it is preferable to take more care of joints, as the tendons and ligaments care for themselves if kept within their natural environment.
3 Soft tissue compression against canon bone
Tendons are positioned vertically, plumbed vertically, and this positioning is designed to aid the flow of fluid up and down the leg. If the tissue is pushed against the cannon bone by over tightening and over usage of leg protection, this action is limited, and the leg is starved of nourishment. This will lead to problems in the long term.
4 Interference with the circulation
Compression via over tightening or over use of leg protection increases venous oedema and inflammation of the distal structures, in this case the lower leg. Many injuries can be avoided when the flow of the venous blood of the foot is free and fast. Optimal blood flow will also contribute to the health and quality of the hoof.
5 Possible alteration of proprioception
Horses ascertain the exact position of their legs by the activation stimuli inside the tendons and ligaments. Tight bandaging and booting can potentially limit the effectiveness of these stimuli, and therefore affect the accuracy of the horse’s or pony’s foot placement. This clumsiness can lead to injury. However, we do not know to what extent excessive pressure would interfere with this.
6 Increased weight to distal legs
Bandages weigh about 200 grams, and conventional boots even more! And when wet as a result of sweat or water, this leg protection can weigh almost double. As a result of this added weight, horses and ponies use more energy to get off the ground. This over exertion will eventually lead to premature fatigue, resulting in clumsiness and possible injury.
7 Increase in skin moisture through sweat
Damp, wet leg protection will increase risk of abrasion and irritation to the leg. Fungus and bacteria thrive in such damp conditions also. The highest risk is then posed when the fungus or bacteria penetrates the irritated skin, leading to infection.
To note: All these problems are exacerbated on hot days, when bandages and boots are used excessively, or there is an excessive use of seals and tapes in the middle of the cannon bone to secure leg protection to the leg. Further issues arise when bandages may be put on too tightly or unevenly.
DISTAL IMPACT PROTECTION OF LEGS
The considerations mentioned earlier do not take into account the risk of impact injury to horses and ponies through contact horse sports and exercises.
Taking into account the issues highlighted above, choice in leg protection must meet the following conditions:
- Light (the animal perceives the leg protection as little as
- Resistant to the most common external
- To not hold water, sweat, or dirt
- Fully permeable to air
- Easily placed and removed, with no elasticity
- Not to limit joint mobility naturally
(flexion, extension and lateral)
- Safe (not easily detached)
It is also important to note that no leg protection will protect from the weight of a horse or pony in the event of an unforeseen incident, they can minimise risk, but not prevent it.