Helping Others With Equines

Dee Howe


"Wrapping" your horse connects him from head to tail.


Horse training methods come in many different packages. During the early part of my career I relied on riding and round pen techniques to solve training and performance problems.  As I realized horses with mental resistance usually had physical problems, I turned to the alternative therapies.  I work with acupuncturist and chiropractors, and learned massage and stretching exercises.  The blend of body therapies and innovative training helped the horses perform better than ever.


Then I discovered a system that literally ties it all together.  It looks a little whacky, but it works on horses like a magical training tool, a massage method, and a psychotherapy session all wrapped up in one.  I call it wrapping, because it involves stretching bandages around the horse's body.  Despite the fact that your horse will look like a highly decorated Christmas present, I urge you to give this system a try.


One Idea Starts The Experiment

 I started experimenting with wraps after watching trainer Linda Tellington-Jones wrap an Ace bandage around the hocks of a mare who kicked.  Tellington-Jones also mentioned she sometimes used a wrap directly under the horse's tail.  The Ace bandage seemed effective, so I took notes on this new tool to try at home.  Over the next year, I placed all sorts of wraps (Ace bandages, track and polo wraps) around horses' neck, backs, girths and tails.  I put them on problem horses, injured horses, young horses without any training and old campaigners.  I put them on horses loose in their paddocks, horses standing tied, horses working under saddle, and those in round pen work.

  The results were amazing.  Horses wearing the wraps became more relaxed.  Those who fussed or pawed when tied or those who paced in their pens quieted down and stood still.  The touchy, flighty horses lost their spook, and the klutzy, stiff and young horses found their feet and began moving in a naturally collected manner.

 The riding horses also responded well. The bandages seemed to operate like a feed-back loop, helping the horses better balance a rider's weight and collect properly.  This allowed the horses to pick up the correct leads, lengthen their necks and put their heads down.  They also quit swishing their tails. 

 I found that injured horses also benefit from the bandages.  The wraps massaged their muscles while the horses moved and helped them maintain good posture while their injuries healed.  The horses responded quickly to their massage, stretching, and chiropractic treatments too.

 Now, I use wraps every time I work my horses at home.  Quite simply, I've found them to be a most effective, simple and safe training method.

How Do They Work?

  When a horse is in physical or emotional pain, his movement and attitude change.  He may move with short strides and be anxious or nervous.  He may move unevenly and stiffly and be almost numb to training cues.  These poor habits, both mental and physical, actually perpetuate the tight muscles and fear which set off problems in the first place.

  In many cases, the body therapies (acupuncture, massage and chiropractic) are essential in breaking the cycle of muscle spasm and pain.  Unfortunately, they must be performed while the horse is standing still.  Once the horse moves, especially when carrying a rider he often reverts to his old postures and attitudes, setting off the cycle of tension and pain again.

 This is where the wraps come into play.  They go beyond other therapies because they work while the horse is in motion.  They help retrain awkward movement and unhealthy mental patterns the horse uses when he moves.  When wrapping is used with alternative therapies and proper training, the improvement in a horse's performance ability can be remarkable.

The wraps help the horse reprogram his muscle and movement patterns while he is moving.  Putting the wraps around the base of the neck, just above the hocks, and another one under the tail while you ride is very effective.  Western saddles have plenty of places to tie the wraps on; you can usually Velcro and tie the wraps to the cinches of English saddles.

 This wrap is safe for most disciplines of riding.  It is a great tool for teaching a horse how to collect and use his hindquarters.  If you ride out of an arena, stay in clear areas with out undergrowth or trees.  Be careful! The wraps may catch on something.  I have personally never had a problem, yet the risk is definitely there.

Tie a wrap on the horn, then wrap it around the horse's neck and Velcro it to the opposite side.  Add a hindquarter and tail wrap and attach to the D-rings or latigos. 

Some English or Endurance saddles have rings to attach the wraps to, if there are no rings present attach the wraps to the girth.  Make sure at least one end is attached by Velcro on all the wraps.

The wraps go beyond other therapies because they work while the horse is in motion.  They help retrain awkward movement and unhealthy mental patterns the horse uses when he moves.

Horses with the following problems can benefit from wraps.

  • Sway Backs
  • Lead Problems
  • Stiffness While Turning
  • Cinchy Horses
  • Sore Backs
  • Needs Chiropractic Care All The Time
  • Hard to Shoe
  • Pulls Back When Tied
  • Won't Stand Still When Tied, Pawing
  • Paces, Weaves in Stall
  • Kicks
  • Flinchy, Touchy, Oversensitive
  • Numb, Dull, Sluggish
  • Swishes or Clamps His Tail
  • Young Horses Before Saddling
  • Foals (for coordination, proper use of their bodies, makes handling easier)
  • Tripping or Clumsiness
  • Moves on the Forehand
  • Runs Over Handler


Wraps Encourage Collection

 When a horse travels holding his head up high, his back drops and his hindquarters fall out behind him.  Chances are, no matter what training aids you use while riding, this horse will not be able to collect consistently under saddle.  This horse is often rough and uncoordinated to ride.  His mind is also "stung out" This horse lacks the attention span and coordination to learn and perform easily.

 Because the wraps stretch around the horse's neck, hindquarters, and tail, they encourage the horse to lower his head, round his back and use his hind legs vigorously, placing them square or up underneath himself.  This way of going is referred to as collected. As a horse moves in this manner he strengthens his back and hindquarters muscles and carries a rider's weight correctly.  It is the most powerful, athletic posture a horse can adopt. 

 The collected horse will look and ride smoothly at all gaits.  When he is in this rounded, engaged posture, he also becomes mentally focused and clam.  By using the wraps to teach your horse how to collect you maintain the strength of his back and hindquarters and prevent a sway back.  Most importantly, over time, your horse will become so accustomed and conditioned to his new collected posture that you will not need to use the wraps on a continual basis.


Gentle Way to Sack Out

 When you wrap your horse up in the bandages, you also expose him to something foreign.  While they cause no harm or pain, the wraps do cause different sensations for the horse which he instinctively prefers to avoid.  Yet, because the wraps are tied in place, the horse cannot run away from them.  In addition, Because the wraps are soft and stretchy, the horse is not able to stand and fight them.

 This situation defuses the fight-or-flight pattern most horses use to protect themselves.  It helps horses accept things that are restrictive so they are less apt to injure themselves when confined in situations such as ground driving, trailering and roping.

 This sacking out or desensitizing aspect of the wraps is especially helpful for young horses or spooky, touchy horses.  Putting the wraps around the tail, hindquarters and cinch area helps the horse accept front and back cinches, driving lines, leg wraps, and general touch all over their body.  You put the wraps on and let the horse work it out himself.  As they take in the sensations, some horses will just stand still, others will move around, some will roll.  In the end the wrap is still there.

 Here are different combinations of wraps I like to use.  Let them work for you while your horse strolls around his paddock, works in the round pen, during longeing, or riding.  Another bonus:  you can put the wraps on your horse during the winter when poor weather interrupts formal training and riding.


Putting the wraps on

I use what are called track bandages for body wrapping because they stretch with movement and come undone easily at the Velcro if they get caught on something.  You want to have four wraps so you can us the bandages in several different ways.

 The fuzzy polo wraps also work, but they are often too short for use on adult horses.  The fuzzy material also seems to attract every seed, thistle, or piece of grass the horse comes across as he wanders around.

 Keep safety in mind.  Have someone hold your horse when you put the wraps on for the first time.  Both of you should stand on the same side of the horse at all times.  If you must work alone, keep the lead rope in your hand so you can pull the horse?s head to you if he tries to kick or run off. Work in a large stall, paddock, or round pen no more than 50 feet in diameter.  Once your horse is accustomed to the wraps you can put them on in a larger area.

 Put the wraps on loose and because they are soft and elastic resistance rarely encounter.  If the horse does move off, just pull their head to you and direct the horse in a small circle until they stop.  Stay calm and act like nothing is wrong.  Don?t call your horse by his ?other name.?  If he sees you are upset it intensifies his own insecurities.  Don?t console him by saying ?easy? or ?it?s OK.?   This gives the horse a mixed message that it is OK to do something you don?t want (like move off when you want the horse to stand still).  Breathe deeply, ignore the actions, and continue working until the wraps have been properly placed. 

 Once the wraps are on I turn the horse loose and back out of the way.  I allow the horse to move on his own to figure out the wraps without my interference.  Usually a horse will stay bunched up at first; then as he realizes he is safe he will relax.  Once he is used to the wraps he will stay calm when you put them on, in fact, many will enjoy it.

First Things First

 Practice tying a bowline knot in a rope around your horse?s neck.  This is the knot you must tie in the wrap which goes around the horse?s neck because once this knot is properly tied and tightened, it will not slip and tighten further (other types of knots could slip and choke your horse).  I?ve included a little saying which should help you remember how to tie it.   

  Place a rope around the horse?s neck.  Take the rope on the right side and make a loop so that it curls back underneath the rope.

 Take the end of the rope on the left side, bring it out through the loop, toward you. (Rabbit comes out of the hole)

Wrap this end behind the rope on the right side. (Rabbit runs behind the tree.)

 Put the end back through the loop. Pull Tight. (Rabbit runs back in the hole)



Wrap #1:  The Base Wrap/Figure Eight

 Start with what I call a “base wrap.”  This is a figure-eight wrap around the horse’s neck and hindquarters.  This wrap generally increases the horse’s connection from his head to hindquarters.  The massaging action increases circulation to the front and hind legs and stimulates the acupressure points on the withers.  Once you put this base wrap on, the horse will square up and immediately walk off with a longer stride.

   This wrap is good for weanlings, horses that you are starting, or those that have been laid off.  It calms horses who don’t like to stand still or those who paw the ground when tied.  It helps those who seem mentally disoriented start to focus.  It also addresses those who are physically stung out be squaring them up.  I use this basic wrap when I am limited with time or number of wraps.  I find it especially useful to put on horses who are tied up or in a stall about 30 minutes before they are worked.  Use when you work the horse without a saddle, during lunging, when the horse is in his stall or tied up.

Let your horse smell the wrap first.  Begin the figure-eight wrap by tying a bowline knot around the horse’s neck.  Keep the Velcro end as long as possible so you can attach it to the Velcro end of the wrap which goes around the horse’s hindquarters.  Place the knot on the withers.  Add the hindquarter wrap by placing its Velcro on the neck wrap’s Velcro. The hindquarter wrap goes around the horse’s hind legs.  Place it snugly in the bend of the hind legs above the gaskin.  For safety, keep your hand on the horse while bringing the wrap around the hind legs. Tie the hindquarter wrap to the wrap around the neck with a simple slip knot.  Watch the hindquarter wrap as the horse works.  If it stretches too much, shorten the wrap. The base Figure-Eight wrap completed. Notice your horse standing square and relaxed.  His hind legs up underneath him.


Wrap #2: Base Wrap plus the Tail Wrap

 This wrap, the base figure-eight wrap plus a third wrap from the withers to the tail, is my favorite combination.  This wrap literally connects the horse from head to tail. 

 The additional wrap under the tail massages muscles and acupressure points in the tail area.  It helps horses collect and calm down, especially uptight, tail-clamping, tail swishing and nervous horses.  It also helps horses at the other extreme:  Those with limp tails who move in a lazy, sluggish manner.

 After I try it for several one and two hour sessions, I will put the spooky or nervous horse in a small pen or stall and leave the wraps on all day.  I only do this when I can check on the horse frequently to assure his safety.  Make sure you check the area for obstacles that the wraps can catch on.  Follow the instructions on how to tie a bowline knot in the neck wrap, and be sure to use the Velcro on the other wraps so they will come undone if they catch on anything.


 After placing a the Base Wrap #1 start the tail wrap by attaching the Velcro around the neck wrap at the withers.  Stretch it along the horse’s back and under the tail.  Tie it off on the neck wrap at the withers.

 Keep safety in mind while placing the wraps.  I keep my hand on the horse’s hip so I can push the horse away if he decides to bolt or kick.  Notice this wrap is stretched tight under the tail.


Wrap #3:  Base Wrap Plus A Cinch Wrap

 This wrap is the base wrap plus a wrap around the cinch area.  This wrap helps horses that are cinchy or sensitive about their sides being touched.  It is great training for the horse that hasn’t been saddled.

 You need to make sure that the cinch wrap is on tight or it will slip back toward the belly as the horse moves.  When a horse is flinchy in his flank area I actually place a wrap around the belly, sort of like a back cinch, to help desensitize and massage them.

 Attach the cinch wrap’s Velcro at the withers, wrap it around the horse’s barrel in the girth area and tie it off at the withers on the opposite side at the neck wrap’s bowline knot.  If not tied tight, this wrap may slide back toward the flank area.

Note:  If your horse continues to be “cinchy” after several sessions of using this wrap I would consult a chiropractor.  Your horse may be out of alignment in the withers, rib or back area.



Another use

 for the wraps