Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tracy Meisenbach: Proper leg wrapping. Why is something so easy, so hard?

Leg wrapping is one of the most common forms of leg protection and one of the most misunderstood. The leg from the knee down has no fat, no heavy muscle layer and no articulated bone structure. It moves front to back and cannot safely extend forward unless the elbow and humerus are completely engaged.

The front legs are prone to damage from the rear legs and hoofs. A hard hit by a rear hoof to the pastern, cannon or quarters can permanently injure a horse and remove him from competition. Wraps and boots can help protect from the strikes and also help your horse not hyperextend his tendons past their limit.

A standard leg wrap is made of felted fleece, 4.5 inches wide and 9 feet long. In the old days they had thin ties to keep them on, now they have wide Velcro straps, a vast improvement. To  understand how wrapping affects the leg you first have to look at the anatomy of the leg.

 The deep flexor tendon (red) and the superficial flexor tendon (blue) as well as the sesamoid bone are what the wrap protects. As you can see the deep flexor tendon goes down into the hoof. Injury to this important tendon can completely remove your horse from competition.

The tendons need to be able to move up and down smoothly within the tendon sheaths and to not encounter anything that hinders this smooth movement. If the wrap has one layer tighter than another it can cause the tendon to “hitch” on the edge of the tighter layer and create a bow. This can easily be avoided by making sure the first layer of the wrap against the horse’s skin is one solid smooth piece.

How to create a smooth inner surface? Turn the wrap so the inside of the wrap is facing the leg. The roll should be under the tail. Place the top of the tail against the mid point of the knee and unroll down. It does take some practice to be able to do this smoothly and easily, and a fidgety horse can make it a chore. However, once you are used to it you can do it as fast, or faster, than the old fashioned style. I used to wrap 8 polo ponies all the way around in about 35 minutes.
 Once the tail length is set move your hand down the wrap, keeping it smooth. Bring the roll to just under the curve of the pastern. This smooth layer of wrap will mean that there is no uneven tension down the back of the leg and no ridges that the tendons can hang on. It is imperative to allow free and fluid movement of the leg. So why not do this in the opposite direction, go from the bottom to the top and wrap down? Because the tendon is already stretched just by the leg being straight, like a big rubber band.  When a horse is just standing around his leg is at the mid point of its flexion. When he lifts the leg in it retracts the tendons to their shortest length and when he extends out in full stride the tendons are at their longest length. So you don’t want to push DOWN on an already stretched tendon. This is why wrapping from the top down is such a bad idea, because you are pushing down on a tendon that is already stretched. You want to support the tendon, so the first layer is smooth, then wrap UP, so the tendon is NOT hyperextended before the horse even starts running.

Now flip the wrap over so it’s going to unroll the correct way and unroll toward the front of the leg. Always wrap counter clockwise on the left legs and clockwise on the right. This keeps the tendons toward the inside of the leg and aligned within the sheath. Flipping the wrap also creates a triangle of extra padding right at the inside pastern, which is where most of the hard strikes occur

 Wrap around the front and then to the back, putting tension on the wrap as you encircle the leg. Wrap UP, making sure the inner layer stays smooth all the way up the leg.

 Raise the wrap level each time you circle the leg and keep the tension even and smooth.

Your last wrap up the leg should be right under the knee capsule, with about two inches of tail sticking up.

Fold the tail over and continue wrapping around the leg. This will be where you start to wrap downward

 Wrap over the tail. This keeps the wrap from sliding and provides another layer of protection at the top of the tendons, which is also a common strike zone. Be sure you are pulling the wrap consistently tight, loose wraps can cause more problems than tight wraps as they can slide and wad up at the top of the pastern, or come loose and cause a horse to trip over them

Wrap down, evenly spaced layers.

Go under the pastern and then back up. This creates a nice support layer and prevents a hard grab on the pastern.

Wrap back up the leg. So now we have a smooth layer down the back, a wrapped layer up, a wrapped layer down and now for our last wrapped layer back up.

A good, smooth, evenly spaced wrap job, tail tucked in securely, all the hard hit areas with an extra layer, nothing preventing the tendons from moving freely up and down.

When you end up here you've done the job correctly. The tapes should be flat along the side of the leg, not across the back. The front triangle is in place right under the knee. It takes a lot of practice, but it keeps your horse safe and can prevent a hard hit from damaging your horse’s legs. Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice!

Copyright June 2014
Tracy Meisenbach
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