Take a drive on the back roads of the Bluegrass, which are within a couple miles of my home, and I guarantee you’ll be stunned by the beauty of the stone fences, the carefully maintained pastures, and the serene herds of Thoroughbred horses. All arguments about which U.S. locale gets the designation of “horse capital of the world” aside, no one can argue that Lexington is a fine example of horse country.

My bike routes take me past many a horse farm.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church/TheHorse.com

When I traverse these roads with my non-horse-enthusiast cycling friends, they point out and have questions about things like horses wearing fly masks, lying flat out in the sunshine, and rolling. Why do they have those funny things on their heads and what on earth are they doing? Sometimes I feel like an unofficial ambassador for the horse industry, explaining equipment and behavior to the best of my ability.

So what do I tend to notice when I’m cycling on my own? Poultice marks and bandages. Yep, that’s me, craning my neck for a better look when I see horses wearing bandages, then wondering why. Certain times of the year—usually around the Thoroughbred sales--I’ll see youngsters bearing the marks of leftover poultice, applied presumably to draw out any heat or swelling when these horses, mostly on turnout up until this point, are kept up in stalls. Like a good graduate of Pony Club I seek out standing wraps and size up the bandager’s skill and tidiness from the road.

Just a few days ago on one of my regular cycling routes, I saw a pretty bay wearing bandage on his forelimb up in a paddock by the barn. My guess is that it was probably just a scrape, or it could’ve been scratches—our mild, wet summer has caused gobs and gobs of this bacterial or fungal infection. But for all I know it might have covered a surgical site, a more serious injury, or one of all manner of things that can happen to horses’ legs (and as a horse owner you know they run the gamut).

Here’s the other thing: I was taught to bandage in pairs. For example, if a horse’s right front leg had some heat, I would wrap it and the left front. So when I see a horse with one leg wrapped, my radar goes up. Why is only one leg wrapped?

It got me wondering—is it really important to bandage in pairs? Or is that an old horsemen’s tale? So I asked Dr. Mark Donaldson (VMD, Dipl. ACVIM), a sport horse practitioner and and partner at Unionville Equine Associates, in Oxford, Pa., about this. He responded, noting that bandaging a horse’s leg has a clear medical benefit to the injured limb, “but I don’t see a reason to bandage the opposite (contralateral) limb, unless the injury results in a lameness so severe that the contralateral limb will be bearing the whole weight of the horse for a long time. The later situation is much less common so I generally only advise wrapping the injured leg.”

When the contralateral limb bears the whole weight of the horse for a long time, complications such as supporting-limb laminitis can occur. But for the most part it sounds like my well-intentioned bandaging of pairs was more about symmetry (and great technique practice!) than utility.

So now I’ll undo roughly 24 years of preconceived notion on this aspect of horse care and carry on with my rides, spotting and speculating about bandages in different ways than before.

What was the last horse husbandry habit you found out wasn’t as etched in truth as you might have thought?