It's a Wrap!

(by Dan Harvey Pedrick)

Properly applied leg bandages are critical to protect the most delicate parts of your ponies' legs when playing OR practicing polo.

Wrapping your ponies' legs is not just a matter of co-ordinating colors to match your saddle blankets. I don't mean to insult your intelligence with that statement and I'm sure many of you have wrapped legs so many times that you could do it in your sleep--and probably have done on occasion. So, for all you seasoned experts out there, sorry, but just think of this as a review, OK? As for the rest (and you may or may not know who you are) I must say I often see wrap jobs that are, well... wanting. But, of course, some of us may be just starting out in this game, and so it is to you, most welcome recruits to The Galloping Game, that I especially dedicate this article.

First of all, why do we wrap the legs of polo ponies at all? The short answer is that polo is a physically demanding sport that puts a lot of strain on a horse's legs. Furthermore, you or one of your mates could very well accidently whack the lower leg of your mount with a mallet or a ball and do no end of harm. The longer answer (still keeping it reasonably short) is that the most vulnerable part of any horse is the leg between the knee joint and the sole of the foot (coincidentally the part that creates the quality we all love most about our favorite quadruped--speed). As any vet or farrier will confirm, it is in this anatomical region that over ninety percent of all lameness-causing injuries are located.

Interestingly, the equine knee joint corresponds to the wrist joint in human anatomy as does the hock joint to our ankle; put another way, imagine being able to run at thirty-five miles per hour on your fingers and your toes! But, alas, the structures capable of performing in this extraordinary way are extremely vulnerable to damage and breakdown--sort of like a racing car or a re-usable space vehicle. As polo horses run hard, stop fast, and turn in all directions on the playing field, these critical tendons and ligaments below the knee and hock experience a lot of stress and strain need to be protected and supported. A sudden mis-step in a divot hole, on a polo ball , or--worse yet--a wayward and bone-crushing blow from your or another player's polo mallet, and your beloved pony could be out of action for good. Therefore, leg wrapping is essential because it provides extra structural support AND protection from the vagaries of the game--but only if it is applied properly. For example, if you wrap a leg too loosely you will do the horse no good as the wrap will not support the tendons and may come off on the field, causing a hazard. If the wrap is too tight, the tendons will be under too much pressure--and this could lead to other problems such as bowed tendons.

So, let's have a go, shall we? I will try to analyze the entire leg wrapping procedure in such a way as to improve my own technique as well as yours, describing the process as if my reader had no previous experience with it. Experts, please bear with me. And remember, this is not the only correct method of wrapping legs, it just happens to be the way I do it.

First, make sure the horse is standing reasonably square, and quiet. Stand facing rearwards at the near foreleg. You should be able to do this WITHOUT kneeling, making it a lot more likely that you can avoid injury should the horse spook, bolt, or simply decide to take the opportunity to avenge any real or imagined slights of the past. Hold the properly wrapped leg bandage with the roll part in your left hand. Unroll about 8 to 10 inches from the roll holding the loose end with your right hand.

Slide the wrap slowly down the back of the leg. Stop just a bit below the back of the knee joint. The backs of your fingers of your left hand (as they grip the roll) should be nearly touching the leg while the right hand stretches out the loose end of the bandage to your right. The edge of the bandage should be parallel to the ground. Maintaining contact between the web of the bandage and the back of the horse's leg, raise the end in your right hand (relative to the roll in your left--the bandage edge is no longer parallel to the ground) and begin the wrap, bringing the roll forward (relative to the horse) around the inside and front of the leg and overlaying itself from beneath as it comes back around the outside of the leg (see Figs. 1 & 2 below).

Continue wrapping downwards with moderate tension, overlapping approximately one third to one half the width of the bandage (depending on the size of the bandage and the horse's leg) with each turn. At this point the wrap should be stable and not slip. Pausing now, stretch the loose end downwards to the ergot (a vestigial structure usually hidden by the fetlock hair) and take another wrap around to hold it in place. The loose end should now be covering the rear-facing part of the leg where the main tendons are located, providing an extra layer of protection. Make sure it is lying smoothly with no folds (Fig. 3).

Continue wrapping until you reach the fetlock joint. At this point wrap carefully around this bulbous structure lowering the rear edge of the wrap slightly so that it just covers the tail end of the bandage you recently stretched down to the ergot. Wrap around this part a second time bringing the bandage up slightly as you come forward to the front of the joint, increasing the tension a bit as you do so (Fig. 4).

This provides extra support as well as another layer of covering to the fetlock joint--and especially to the vulnerable sesamoid bones that are part of it. Do not wrap below the ergot and around the pastern bone as this will interfere with the articulation of the joint.

Reverse the downward direction of the spiral and continue back up the leg, overlapping evenly as you go, pacing it according to the dimensions of leg and bandage, such that you end up back where you started--just below the knee joint (Fig.5).

Remember to keep the tension slightly increased as you return. Attach the velcro fastening so that the edges of the two attaching surfaces meet precisely (Fig. 6).

You may reinforce this fastening with tape if needed or desired--but not too tight!

There. You've done a front leg. Now go to the near hind. The procedure is very similar but it is even more important that you stand facing rearwards, your left shoulder touching the horse's hip. Why? Because this is the critter's chance to really let you have it if you have given him any reason to be miffed. This is the posture farriers are taught to assume for the same reasons. And while you're at it, this is a good time to tie the tail up-- standing to one side, of course (the subject of a subsequent article? Hmmm... better wait and see how much reader outrage this one inspires first!).

So, as before, hold the properly wrapped leg bandage with the roll part in your left hand. This time, because the hind leg is longer, unroll about 10 to 12 inches from the roll holding the end in your right hand. Slide the wrap slowly down the back of the leg. Stop just a bit below the back of the hock joint, just below the chestnut (another vestigial structure left over from the days when horses could count to twenty on their toes but probably didn't), and take another wrap around to hold it in place (Fig. 7).

Pull the loose end downwards again to the ergot (Fig. 8).

Continue wrapping, overlapping and spiraling downwards as before, until you reach the fetlock joint. Everything from here on is the same as the front leg. Having made a double wrap around the pastern joint (Fig. 9),

...back up you go, a little bit tighter (Fig 10),

...and finish off with the fastening at the top, just below the chestnut (Figs. 11 & 12).

IMPORTANT!! Your wraps should be:

Now for the offside. OK, here's a shortcut: imagine the whole thing as an image reversed in a mirror, i.e., nearside is offside, right-hand is lefthand, etc. Get it? Of course you do! You're not just some dumb bunny, you're a Polo Player--and now a Wrap Artist as well!

P.S. - A Word about Properly Rolled Bandages:

This part is easy because the first time you wrap a horse's leg with a bandage rolled up inside out your exasperation will inspire you to ever avoid it in the future. But, just for the record: hang the bandage (hopefully washed and dried) over a rail (not your pony's spine!) And turn the surface of the bandage with the velcro fastening face up. Place the velcro tab (which protrudes from the end of the bandage) onto the corresponding velcro fastening. Roll the bandage tightly and tuck the end into the roll to keep it from coming undone.

Sometimes during a tournament weekend you may have to re-roll dirty leg wraps to finish the match on Sunday. After playing the first day, hang the wraps up to dry overnight (along with your saddle blankets) before re-rolling. As you re-roll, remove any foreign matter that may be sticking to the bandage.

Traditional polo leg bandages run from the thick and fluffy material to thinner weights. They average about 8 to 9 feet in length and 4 to 5 inches in width. The newer boot style of leg wraps provide good support, they're easier and faster to put on, and easier to clean. For extra protection and support you can apply these boots OVER a traditional leg bandage. If you try this, use a lightweight traditional wrap underneath, otherwise the boot-style wrap may not fit properly. Again, take care not to wrap legs too tightly. Remove leg bandages as quickly as possible after playing to avoid overheating the area.

One last thing: don't forget to use bell boots to provide protection to the sensitive coronary band area of your ponies' feet.

Dan Harvey Pedrick is Secretary of the Victoria Polo Club and a farrier.

(A version of this article was published in Polo Players' Edition magazine in September 2003.)

Back to Victoria Polo Club Page