Many racehorses spend their entire lives in some form of bandages; many race in them and even more are stalled in them. I think this is a bad practice. In my race barn, sound legs were never bandaged and sound racing horses wore bandages only for protection on the track. My personal philosophy is to avoid anything in life that artificially supports or relieves the living body from experiencing the natural stresses exerted upon it, unless there is a darn good reason to do otherwise. Bandages would certainly fall into this category. It seems to me whenever you try to relieve stress upon natural structures in an organism--you open that structure or mechanism up to ongoing weakness. Almost invariably, the biologic organism is quite adept at reacting to outside stresses and will fortify itself naturally. This can be observed throughout the many varied bio-systems. For instance, the long Mc3 (Mt3) bones in a horse's leg tends to be thicker on the inside (medial) wall to compensate for natural stresses on that section of bone. The torque forces are greater on the inside section of this long cannon bone when the horse travels. Remove those stresses and the body will not be cued where to put down bone for maximum strength. Artificially support a muscle or muscle group and that muscle will weaken. The natural stresses of life need to be allowed to mold your racehorse. Placing bandages on a sound leg suppresses blood/lymphatic circulations and weakens the ligament/tendon/myofascial apparatus to some degree. Bandages should be used only in unsound conditions or for temporary protection; in this situation, it is the lesser evil. Bandages tend to increase basal temperature of the parts covered, unnaturally compress the structures beneath the bandage, and provide support to the neglect of natural engineering which are all qualities not desirable in the healthy leg.
Charles Strong, one of my early mentors in horse injury matters writes this of elastic bandages: ". . . this form of bandaging is the most pernicious ever devised. It supports the muscles, and in consequence, they waste to the same degree as they are supported. The pressure diminishes the circulation and if the bandages are applied to the lower part of the legs during exercise and racing they reduce the circulation just at the very moment when it is most required. However, it is a very different matter to pad and bandage the lower legs to protect them from bruising in horses." He also suggests that bandages over a newly injured site can produce topical pressure that pushes and spreads seeping blood, lymph, and other fluids from the damaged structures into the surrounding tissue resulting in a much larger more detrimental adhesion formation compounding future problems. This is certainly something to think about!
Generally, there seems to be two basic types of bandages on the non-competing race horse: stable bandages and standing bandages. While some horsemen used these terms interchangeably as one, I have always considered them distinct bandage styles. Stable bandages cover the leg from just below the ankle to just below the knee. The standing bandage extends a bit longer to around the coronary band of the hoof up to the lower knee. Standing bandages are used more as shipping bandages, since it offers added lower protection while the horse is in transit. Standing bandages may have an extra sheet or two of cotton, too.
Bandages are as individually designed and applied as there are different personalities of horsemen. Every trainer who has wrapped horses for any length of time has preferences and styles. You must find your own. If old fashion sheet cotton is used, usually three sheets are incorporated into one stable bandage. These three sheets may be molded into one pad in any number of ways and configurations. One of the more complex methods, I have encountered, involved splitting the outer cotton sheet in half. Exposing the fuzzy inner cotton, and then using this outer sheet to encapsulate the remaining two sheets. Looked pretty, but not sure it is worth all of the trouble. In the final analysis, your cotton sheets or pre-manufactured cotton pads should offer smooth consistent support next to the leg. The outer bandages may be of varying types, too. The most common types seen today are the off the counter stretchy knit bandages, four inches wide and 3 yards long made my such companies as Walsh and Tracer. The longer, standing bandages are often made from sheet flannel which was cut into approximately six inch wide, four yard lengths. One would buy a bolt of flannel and cut one's own in the past. Now, I see that flannels can be bought ready prepared with Velcro closures. Back in the old days strings and bandage pins were used to fasten the finished bandage. Thank goodness strings are no longer around, they were a dangerous method. Cording (tendon damage) of the leg was often possible with strings. Velcro tab closures are pretty much the norm now, though I still like bandage pins, particularly on wide flannel warps.
Bandages are pretty much put on one uniform way on the race track. One usually wraps clockwise around the leg. First place the cotton under-pad (sheet cotton or factory pads) next to the leg and wrap firmly around the leg. The beginning edge should start on the inside of the horse's leg, and the cotton wrapped firmly, clockwise around the leg. Once the sheet cotton or pad is in place, one takes the bandage, starting just above the ankle, wrapping over itself, once, to tie the end in place and head downwards to below the ankle, covering approximately a third of the preceding bandage as one wraps. After reaching the mid-pastern area-leaving a bit of the cotton edge exposed, one heads back upward to end at or slightly below the upper cannon. There is no room for error with the three yards. Three yards will generally be all that is required to wrap a stable bandage using this route. With the Velcro tabs, it is not necessary to end with the bandage on the outside as required if one were using pins. Pins are always fastened to the outside of a bandaged leg. The bandage should have a smooth, Painted-On look-a sign of an experienced groom. The tricky part is trying to describe the proper tension which should be applied in wrapping bandages. Bandages should not be wrapped on too tight, but not loose enough to slip over night, either. There are a couple of fail-safe features of bandages that helps avoid them being put on too tight. One, the knit stable bandages have much stretch to them and, two, the thick cotton pads of the standing bandage tend to provide the stretch that the flannel bandages do not have. Generally speaking, new cottons will always slip some until they become set to the leg.
Stable bandages are used in conjunction with a poultice or sweat therapies, provided the part being treated reside in the confines of that part of the leg. With a poultice, the bandage is placed over either a plastic sheet or brown damp paper which covers the mud. With a sweat, wax paper or plastic sheeting separates the bandage under-pad from the leg itself.
Bandages for the race are a little different matter. Harness horses are not bothered with run downs, so their bandaging requirements differ a bit from the Thoroughbreds. With the universal exception of tendon/ligament support in both breeds, race bandages are used on Standardbreds more for protection from gait interference compared to the Thoroughbred's need for rundown protection. Interference of gait can occur in the Thoroughbred, but usually not too such an extent or seriousness as the harness horse. Accordingly, racing bandages (brace bandages, as they are called) in harness horse racing are somewhat thicker, heavier with black rubber pads being used underneath Ace type, elastic bandages. In contrast, Thoroughbred race bandages consists of one sheet of cotton covered by a crepe type of elastic self-sticking bandage, like Vetwrap. Plastic taping of the end, finishes the race bandages, helping to guard against accidental bandage unrolling during a race. Depending on how badly a runner tends to rundown, leather or plastic rundown patches may be wrapped into the ankle area where such injuries may occur.