Dear Jessica, one of my boarders and I have been having an argument and I'm hoping that you can settle it with some of your famous diplomacy. She doesn't like to be wrong about anything and neither do I of course! Anyway here's the argument we have going: She says that polo wraps provide support for a horse's legs if they're put on correctly, and I say they don't. I say that bandages of any kind are risky and shouldn't be used unless you know what you're doing when you wrap them because they can cause a bowed tendon. I know this because I've had horses shipped cross-country many times, and the shippers won't let you put bandages on them because of worries about bandage bows. She says polo wraps aren't going to hurt a horse's legs and you don't have to be an expert. It started as a friendly argument and it's getting less friendly, so will you please end it for us? We've agreed that whatever you say, that's that.
Laurie (and Angie too)
Polo wraps don't provide any support to a horse's legs. They're used to provide protection, that's all. If a polo could be applied tightly enough to provide any support, it would be far too tight for safety, and therefore yes, it could possibly cause a bandage bow.
There's a lot of bumping and crashing and whacking in polo - it's an exciting, fast game, and there's a lot of action going on in the vicinity of the horses' legs. Horses' legs get bumped by other horses, hit with mallets, banged by fast-moving polo balls. The soft, fuzzy, cushiony polo wraps are used to provide some protection against those bumps and bangs and crashes, and they are reasonably effective.
A too-tight bandage of any kind can cause a bow; polos are probably the least likely to cause this because in a stretch fabric, the pressure tends to equalize and so there is less danger of overtightening a polo than, say, a standing bandage. However, bows are frequently caused by bandages that were applied sloppily or too loosely, or that were left on too long, or that weren't appropriate for the conditions (weather, trailer, footing). A loose bandage or poorly-applied bandage of any kind can slip and sag, and end up putting too much pressure somewhere. This is a common cause of bandage bows, and it's an excellent reason to avoid bandaging with any kind of a bandage unless the bandages are NEEDED, and unless you know exactly how to apply them, and unless you know how long they may safely be left on the horse's legs. And, of course, you need to check on bandages regularly and re-do them if they've sagged or slipped or been rubbed out of position.
Commercial shippers will usually accept bell boots, but many of them specify "no wraps" for several reasons, and you're right, the risk of a bandage bow is definitely one of those reasons.
If you have a specific reason to bandage a horse's legs (e.g., bandages that keep gauze and medication in place over an injury, or polo wraps for a horse that is actually being used for polo), then it makes sense to use bandages. If you don't have a specific reason to bandage a horse's legs, but would like the horse to wear something protective for a particular reason (e.g. the horse is known to scramble in the trailer and scuff its legs, or the horse is wearing shoes on its hind feet, and you're worried a sudden stop could cause the hind shoes to come into contact with the front legs), then shipping boots all around (for the horse in the first example), or boots and bell boots on the front legs (for the horse in the second example) would provide some protection without presenting as much risk as would bandages.
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