“Every horse has an essentially weak pumping system serving the vascular walls,” says von Rautenfeld. “Standing idle in a stall leads to insufficient absorption and subsequent evacuation of watery lymphatic fluids by the venous capillaries and lymphatic stream. Since lymphatic fluids follow gravity, they pool at the lowest points of the horse’s body—the legs. The best and cheapest antidote is movement, so that the vascular musculature pumps the lymphatic fluids up into the chest cavity and gut for elimination.”
Von Rautenfeld suggests equine compression wraps be used as a prophylactic measure. He recommends horses wear compression wraps for half the day or when stalled, and that they be turned out into a reasonably sized pasture for the remainder of the day.
Static versus Compression wrap
One study compared traditional bandaging material with elastic compression garments on lymph flow in a horse’s legs. Ten horses with a tendency for stocking up were examined under sedation with lymphangiography. A continuous subdermal injection of X-ray contrast fluid was put through the lymph vessels of the horses’ legs. The fluid movement was seen to stop with the use of traditional standing wraps, but maintained normal flow with the elastic compression garments.
Wraps provide graduated compression from under the fetlock and up the cannon. When a horse is sized correctly, the wrap should fit like a second skin, exerting “mechanical pressure” on the skin surface, stimulating rather than constricting circulation. The fabric used in these garments is woven specifically for vascular support.
Compression wraps also manage conditions like lymphangitis or severe wounds.
What if the horse has sustained a horrific injury or developed lymphangitis? Compression therapy for your equine buddy needs to be as individualized for him as it would be for yourself. Sizing, service, and product quality are keys to making compression therapy work for your horse. Always discuss the use of compression wraps with your veterinarian or therapist prior to application.
Donna von Hauff is a founder of Strathcona Ventures, the managing company for EquiCrown Canada. She is also a member of the Practice Review Board for the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. Her career history spans serving as Vice President of Concordia University of Edmonton 1996–2006, working as a consultant to the Alberta government and industry 1985–1997, and an author/editor of magazine and scholarly articles, and four books. Early retirement provided Donna with the opportunity to further develop her knowledge and work with horses and their owners/riders/trainers.