Dutch national federation bans bandages in competition

The science-based decision is intended to contribute to equine welfare

The Koninklijke Nederlandse Hippische Sportfederatie (Royal Dutch Equestrian Sports Federation, or KNHS) has announced a ban on bandages at competitions in the Netherlands due to concerns about possible damage to horses’ legs during exercise.

Already outlawed in eventing there, bandages will no longer be permitted in vaulting, show jumping, dressage and driving. Standing bandages will reportedly still be allowed in the stable; likewise with shipping bandages during transport.

‘Based on scientific studies’

The following news release is from the KNHS website:

The regulations for dressage, jumping and driving that will take effect on April 1, 2024 and for vaulting on March 1, 2024, will state that bandages are no longer allowed on the competition grounds. This rule, which was already in place for eventing, has now been extended to all disciplines to contribute to the welfare of horses.

The decision is based on scientific studies, which show that bandages do not provide effective leg protection and can even have a negative effect on horses’ legs. “There’s no getting around it; so much research has been done on it. It is obvious that it is better to stop using it. Especially because there are alternatives if you want to protect the lower legs,” says Fenna Westerduin, who manages the horse welfare portfolio at the KNHS.

No effective leg protection

Morgan Lashley, specialist in sports medicine and equine rehabilitation at the University of Utrecht, confirms that bandages do not offer effective leg protection.

“It has been investigated whether bandages can prevent overstretching of the [fetlock]. The answer is no, even tape doesn’t help against that. You can only stabilize this joint with a brace or cast, but yes, you can’t ride with that. If you want protection against [knocking or rapping], tendon [boots] work better than a piece of fabric, which also carries other risks.”

Damaged tendon fibers

The main problem is that under bandages, the temperature of the legs [gets] high, which has a detrimental effect on elasticity of tendon tissue. It is sometimes compared to boiling an egg. The structure of the tendon fibers changes, which can damage them. It doesn’t help if you cool down your legs immediately after riding. “That’s like setting your house on fire first and then putting it out. The damage has already been done.”

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She also points out the problems that can arise if bandages are not applied correctly. “If they come loose, a horse can get caught in them. If they are too tight or the material is not good, pressure can occur. I have even seen abroad that tendons had suffered trauma from bandages that were too tight.”

These new regulations, which will take effect for dressage, jumping and driving on 1 April 2024 and for vaulting on 1 March 2024, are a new step towards ensuring the welfare of horses during competitions.

The KNHS is one of the national equestrian federations recognized by the Fédération Équestre Internationale.

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