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Arthritis Management in the Winter

arthritis winter Jan 10, 2022

Arthritis Management in the Winter

The winter months in the UK can be difficult for horse care and management, and in particular horses with arthritis can struggle over the winter with joint pain and stiffness.

At this time of year I do see a lot of horses having ‘flare ups’ and needing veterinary attention to deal with pain levels and lameness.

I work with horses owners post diagnosis and vet treatment, to help make plans to manage the horse on an ongoing basis, and adapt their exercise regimes to help their joints and surrounding structures to be strengthened without further strain - it’s a tricky balance.

So this weeks blog is my Top Tips for Arthritis Management in the Winter months in the UK.

1. Vet diagnosis and medication: it is essential to have a clear diagnosis from your vet if you suspect arthritis in your horse, so that an appropriate plan can be made regarding medication to get your horse comfortable initially, settle the affected joints down, and then ongoing plans to maintain comfort levels and good quality of life. Be clear about what you are dealing with.

2. Keep them moving: this is one of the most important points after clear diagnosis and medication. Keeping your horse moving with appropriate turnout daily in a flat paddock is ideal - some horses thrive better on full turnout, some prefer to be stabled overnight - but either way turnout is essential to allow movement which helps the health of the affected joints.

3. Exercise: you may need to adapt your exercise routine in the winter, to a more sympathetic approach. I tend to recommend a lot of walk work for arthritic horses in the winter, it’s low impact, but you can still achieve a lot in terms of flexibility, by using gentle in hand exercise, walking over poles, lunge/long rein work in walk using sweeping turns etc. I also highly recommend adding core mobilisation and core strengthening exercises into your routine, so that your horses body is strong and flexible to help him deal with his stiff joints. And adapting to a more consistent type of exercise, for example 30 minutes 6 days a week to maintain flexibility, strength and joint health.

4. Warm up well: you will likely need to extend your warm up time in the winter months, so a good 20 minute walk on a long rein before trot / school work etc, allows the horses body to warm up, and the joints to become ready to start exercise - your horse will be more comfortable as you move into your session after a 20 minute warm up walk, and you will help to prevent further injury to the joints by warming up thoroughly.

5. Supplements: this is a bit of a minefield, and quite an individual thing too, but supplements can be really helpful, I have seen horses transform with a good joint supplement and adaptations to their exercise routines in the winter. Ask your physio, vet or nutritionist for advice, and look for products that have been scientifically proven - it’s better to spend your money on a product that has some science behind it and will actually help your horses joints.

6. Increasing blood flow: when we increase blood flow to an area of the body, the new blood flow brings increased oxygen and nutrients to the area, which assists with healing. So we are generally looking to increase blood flow for horses with arthritis. Heat increases blood flow, cold reduces blood flow temporarily. Boots and wraps can warm the legs, and heat pads can be useful to warm joints prior to exercise.

7. Keep arthritic joints warm: horses with arthritis do seem to do better kept warm so consider your rugs if needed, is he warm enough, does he need a neck cover or not, etc. Try to keep the legs dry and warm as best you can, and consider changing your horses clip - go for a trace clip instead of a full clip for example, all of these options can help your horse keep warm and a little more comfortable in the cold wet winter months. 

8. Flare ups: joint flare ups do happen during the winter for horses with arthritis, the cold wet weather isn’t helpful for joint health and comfort. If your horse has a flare up (lameness, increased stiffness, grumpiness, not lying down, doesn’t want to move as much etc) in the winter, talk to your vet first, then look at what changes you can make.

9. Team approach: if you don’t already have a team of trusted professionals that know you and your horse, get one set up! Vet, physio and farrier all play a different and important part in your horses welfare, especially if they have an issue such as arthritis.

10. It’s an individual situation: some horses respond better than others to supplements, turnout, stabling, etc, so you will need to monitor and work out what is actually working for your horse. Each horse is an individual, so really try to assess what has made a difference to your horse - and if you're really not sure, ask your vet or physio for advice.

So ultimately there are lots of changes that can be made to management of your horse with arthritis, to help their comfort levels, soundness, ability to exercise, and therefore quality of life.

***If you would like more detailed help and recommendations for management of arthritis, my Ebook is available for immediate download, click here for more details: Practical Arthritis Management EBOOK

***My Core Mobilisation & Activation Exercises Ebook is also available, if you would like to see the exercises that I recommend for maintaining core strength, flexibility and symmetry in the body - all done in the stable! Click here for more details: Core Exercises EBOOK 

*You can get in touch with me through the Contact page on my website if you need any more help or have any questions.*

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