This is one Step by Step we sincerely hope you’ll never have to use. The Robert Jones bandage, named for the World War I doctor who developed it, was designed to aid soldiers wounded in battle. In horses, it is used to immobilize the most serious of lower-limb injuries–those that leave a leg dangling, collapsed or unable to bear weight. This kind of injury calls for emergency veterinary treatment, but if professional help isn’t available immediately, or if the horse first has to be moved to safety or loaded into a trailer, a Robert Jones bandage will stabilize the injury for the time and/or distance it takes to reach help. The bandage must be applied while the horse is standing, however; if he is down and not struggling to rise, simply comfort him while you wait for help to arrive.
The Robert Jones bandage consists of multiple layers of soft, compressible materials supported by splints on either side of the leg. Taken individually, each layer is insufficient to stabilize a serious injury, but as successive layers are added and the padding is pulled tighter and tighter, the eventual result is a stiff cast. To be effective, the bandage must extend from the hoof to the top of the leg and hold each joint completely still. Although it takes about a half-hour to apply and uses more materials than you would ever think possible, this is one first-aid technique that can save your horse’s life and increase his chances of long-term recovery.
If necessary, you can apply a Robert Jones bandage by yourself. It’s best, however, if the person bandaging has at least two helpers–one to assist with the procedure and one to hold the horse. Some seriously injured horses may stand still on their own, but others may be uncooperative from the start or become panicky as you wrap. Round up all the help you can. Before applying the bandage, you’ll need to treat any immediate wound. For this article, we imagined that our model, Rococo, had an open fracture just below his knee. We applied a primary dressing and veterinary wrap, then proceeded with the Robert Jones bandage.
The method shown here is the basic technique for applying the bandage. In an actual emergency, your technique will be dictated by the materials you have on hand. As long as the result is a stiff, full-length column made of many layers, you’ll have done your job well.
CAUTION: Do not use this technique on injuries of the upper leg. Although a Robert Jones bandage can be a lifesaver when a horse’s leg is injured below the knee or hock, it cannot properly stabilize injuries that occur higher on the leg and may even do additional harm. To help a horse with a grave injury of the upper leg, stop any profuse bleeding, cover open wounds and leave the leg alone until the veterinarian arrives.
What you’ll need: The type of material you use to build a Robert Jones bandage isn’t nearly as important as how much material you use. A single bandage requires a small mountain of soft, wrappable materials. For ours, we used several pounds of rolled cotton, four pillows and nearly 20 rolls of various elastic tapes, self-sticking veterinary wrap, shipping bandages and Ace bandages, along with two pieces of wood salvaged from a scrap pile for splints.
When the situation arises, you may not have access to this quantity of veterinary materials. Search the barn for any type of bandage you can find, then head to the house for sheets, pillows and towels. Anything that’s soft and has some give to it can be used in your bandage–either as padding or torn into strips to hold everything together. If need be, a pair of straight, stout tree branches can function as splints. Whatever materials you gather, make sure they’re all within reach before you start wrapping.
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This article originally appeared in the December 1998 issue of EQUUS magazine.